1.18 Making Fundraising Training Work for You

Dear Kim:

Happy New Year to you!  I have a question which I hope will not appear impertinent or disrespectful.  Over the years, our organization has hired many fundraising trainers to work with our board members to help them be better at fundraising.  I would say that these trainings have had minimal impact and wonder, since you are a fundraising trainer, when and how providing training can really work? 

~Just Asking

Dear Just:

Happy New Year to you, and to all our readers!  Your question is neither impertinent nor disrespectful.  I also appreciate honesty—when people actually say what they mean directly to the person they need to say it to. 

Training does not work very well by itself.  I used to do a lot of board trainings and found they have almost no impact.  The board members who were willing to do fundraising became more willing, perhaps, and more comfortable.  But they would have worked anyway.  Those who hated asking for money made a temporary commitment to do it which lasted 6-7 hours and then faded away.   A one-time training is like going to the gym once.  Are you going to be in better physical shape?  Not really. 

Yet I believe in training, if it is done in a context.  I won’t do board trainings anymore unless the organization has decided on a course of action which requires board involvement, and to which the board has enthusiastically agreed and ideally helped create.  For example, I did a training recently for a small agency wanting to raise $10,000 in two weeks.  Board members created lists of people to ask, got their materials and a timeline, and sent out a round of introductory emails at the end of the training.  The next day they were to get on the phone to do follow-up.  The intensity of short campaign and manageable goal, along with information that could be put to work immediately meant that the training was successful as was the campaign. 

Also, to get the most from any training, you need to know that training is the solution to the problem the organization has, and the people being trained want this intervention.  I have often been asked to do fundraising trainings only to discover that the board isn’t going to fundraise because they hate the executive director or they don’t agree with the program direction of the organization.  The training quickly becomes a mediation or disintegrates into a shouting match.  If the trainer is not prepared to facilitate an honest conversation, the whole experience can be awful. 

The board trainings I used to do were heavily judgmental and proscriptive:  “Listen people—you have a job and you better do it.  Here’s how you do it.  Blah blah blah.”  People took notes, laughed, practiced asking, brainstormed people they should ask and went home satisfied.  I was often asked back—sometimes training the same people year after year.   But with no immediate application, the training was not terribly effective.   

Of course, there are also terrible trainers, but that will have to be the subject of another response. 

I would suggest being very clear about what you want from a training and then really asking yourself if a training is the way to get it.  If yes, then training can be successful.   

Thanks for your honest question! 

~Kim Klein

P.S. Check out this Grassroots Fundraising Journal article on how two groups successfully used fundraising training to change their organizational cultures to improve their fundraising results!